Thursday, April 24, 2014

Getting high in Denver (no, it's not pot!)

Say hello to the Rocky Mountains!

For a total of $10 on Southwest Airlines (isn't it awesome?), we flew to Denver for the Easter weekend.

Why so cheap? Because Panda used his miles to redeem his ticket, and I flew for free on his companion pass. All we did was to pay the tax. Like I said, I love our budget life. And I love the hubs who always has an eye out for cheap deals.

Day 1

We planned to hit a lot of places and only meet Panda's colleague for lunch on our last day. But this Panda had a major miscommunication and we ended up meeting M right after we touched down. It turned out to be a good thing, because M gave us many tips on travelling within Colorado. We owe that fabulous Rocky Mountains photo to him, taken from a vista point on a highway.

Panda and M reunite in Golden

Thanks to M too, Panda tried his first buffalo meat Reuben sandwich. D'deli in Golden sells the craziest flavours - peanut butter with egg salad, corn smoked elk? I'm a total wimp when it comes to food, so I ordered a Maui Waui. Safe and yummy.

M also told us about a well-known restaurant called Buckhorn Exchange, which sells all sorts of game meat like elk, rattlesnake and alligator. I later found out about the Rocky Mountain Oysters.

They are, in fact, bull testicles.

Cough, cough.

After bidding M goodbye, we headed to the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. I am slapping myself now for not taking a panoramic shot of this geological wonder. At 6,450 feet above sea level, this naturally-occurring performance venue has a sweeping view of Denver and two towering sandstone blocks on either side, providing what they called 'acoustic perfection'.

The perfect sound system God gifted to Man

Creation Rock
Ship Rock

I'm admittedly a sucker for all things big and ancient. It was absolutely mind-blowing to be looking at these prehistoric monoliths.

Hey there, are you 250 million years old too?

After an awesome time strolling around (and getting sunburnt) at Red Rocks, we returned to Denver downtown in hope of catching the free tours at Colorado State Capitol. The building bears resemblance to the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. and has a gold plated dome to commemorate the state's gold rush days.

I was hoping to stand on the 13th step of the State Capitol, and shout in all glory that I'm exactly a mile high above sea level. (Denver is nicknamed the Mile High City because of its elevation.) Alas, when we reached downtown, the only parking available was expensive and we were also getting a little tired and hungry.

So we did the most sensible thing - stopped by McDonalds' for food.

After that, out of sheer laziness, we decided to just drive around town for the sake of it. We went past Denver Art Museum and Colorado Convention Centre, but I couldn't spot the famous 40-foot 'I See What You Mean' blue bear since I was driving.
A glimpse of that golden dome

Denver Art Museum

At Panda's request, we also made a quick stop at Pepsi Centre, home of the Denver Nuggets. It was eerily quiet because there wasn't any games on that evening.

Panda shooting imaginary hoops outside a deserted stadium

Tired from our 6am flight, we decided to call it a day and drove home with our box of leftover nuggets for dinner. See, Denver nuggets rock, even when they were cold!

Ok, lame joke.

Day 2

It has got to be the most awesome day, because we were taking the world's highest cog railway to Pikes Peak

The depot is located at Manitou Springs, a picturesque little city at the foot of the 14,115-foot tall Pikes Peak. It would be a 3-hour round trip, with 30 minutes' break at the peak to take in the scenery.

When we collected our tickets, the lady warned us that a storm might be coming. Fortunately, we brought our down jackets. From that Mount Rainier 'expedition' in Seattle, I knew it could be freezing on top. We spotted a Chinese couple with nothing but short-sleeved tops. Good luck to them!

The COG railway depot
We got the tickets!
The special track that would take us to the top

And then came our 1.20pm train, along with the hilarious conductor who kept us entertained with trivia about Pikes Peak. I wasn't listening much though, I was too excited about the scenery.

As we wound through the forest and climbed up the mountain, vegetation became sparse. We could see surrounding mountains and lakes on one side; on the other side, it was a white expanse of rocks and snow.


At times, the wall of snow was so close to the window that you could technically reach out and touch it. BUT it's certainly not wise to do so. You could cut your hands.

I thought we might get lucky and the skies would clear. But no such luck. It snowed as we neared the top and it felt like we were entering no-man's land. The slopes looked so forlorn against the gloomy skies.

By the time we reached, the fog has rolled in and we could see nothing but white fluff all around. It was as if we had taken the Polar Express.

Still, we were 14,115 feet above sea level!


Best of all, we made it to the peak without fainting from the high altitude. What an achievement! Perhaps, that's the only consolation we have for not being able to view the five neighbouring states like we would on a clear day.
We were freezing even in our jackets, so we snuck into the gift shop and café for warmth. I don't know why I was surprised to find people working at the peak. I sure hoped those guys didn't have to hike or drive down in that foggy weather.

It rained when we got back to Manitou Springs, so we had to go even though it seemed like an interesting town. The skies were still overcast when we arrived at Garden of the Gods, our next stop.

It was a shame because somewhere nearby there must be a school prom. A handful of girls in heavy make-up and evening dresses were there with their dates, using those beautiful sandstones as photo backdrops.

We didn't do the full trail as the grounds were wet and it was turning cold. We looped behind the North Gateway Rock, passed the White Rock and Signature Rock, and took photos of the Kissing Camels.

We were about to leave when God blessed us with a majestic sight. A ray of sunlight burst through the overcast skies and lit up a monolith.

Isn't it gorgeous? Indeed, God has the power to make his creations glow despite the darkness. 

What an awesome end to the day.

Day 3

We thought of braving the cold to attend the Easter Sunrise Service at Red Rocks. But Panda had a bad bout of headache the night before so we slept in.

On our last day, we headed back to Golden to take a self-guided tour at Coors Brewery, the world's largest single brewing site. This region of Colorado is also known as the 'Napa Valley of Beer', naturally this alcoholic would take the chance to drink some.

Unfortunately, I had totally forgotten about the Easter holidays and I guess I wasn't really listening when I called to enquire about the tour. Coors was fully closed on Easter. Dang.

Our alternative was the nearby Golden City Brewery. The tiny shop and alfresco sitting area were hidden behind the owners' house off the main road - we thought we went to the wrong address initially. There was a crowd, probably regulars, when we got there in the afternoon.


I ordered the legendary red ale without thinking - it's legendary, right? But ended up not liking it much. I should have paid a little more to try the six samplers, but I figured I won't be able to finish it since I was the driver.

In any case, it was better than not drinking any. So says the alcoholic. 

End notes

I kept thinking we didn't hit a lot of places in and around Denver. Looking at all the photos, I realised we did the best we could in three days, and we didn't spent a bomb.

Hyatt Regency DTC room (breakfast + parking): $250
Southwest airfare: $10
Car rental: $ 68
Gas: $45
Meals: $60
Entertainment (Cog Railway + beer): $82
Total: $515

Slightly over $500 for two persons to Denver.

That's a loud and clear YAY for us!

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